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Bike builder Keino Sasaki in his garage

Paul Cox and Keino Sasaki: On Life, the Indian Chief, and Indian Larry

Keino Sasaki and Paul Cox remained in contact after Indian Larry's death. But working on the 2022 Indian Chief Custom Program is their first collaboration since his passing. And they both had a lot to say about the build and their approaches to life.

Some bike builders, like Roland Sands, have become household names through their custom builds and, in some cases, racing efforts. And Indian has pulled together four of these iconic individuals to properly ring in the updated 2022 Chief. Two of these builders are working together on the bike. And if you’re a custom motorcycle fan, you’re no doubt excited about who’s part of this tag team: Keino Sasaki and Paul Cox.

Keino Sasaki and Paul Cox walked their own roads to the custom bike scene

Bike builder Keino Sasaki in his garage
Bike builder Keino Sasaki | Indian

In past interviews, Keinosuke ‘Keino’ Sasaki has always expressed a desire to push himself creatively. In an interview with Inked, he said that he wants “‘to keep moving up. I don’t want to be known for a certain style as far as aesthetics go. I want to move onto different things and keep experimenting with my ideas or a customer’s ideas.'” And he’s been pushing almost since day one.

Born in Fukuoka, Japan, Keino Sasaki has had a somewhat twisty path to becoming a celebrated motorcycle builder and mechanic. He grew up around bikes. And both his father and grandfather were mechanically-inclined tradesmen. However, his parents wanted him to have a more stable future, Cruiser reports. But after the Japanese financial crisis hit in the ‘90s, he realized, “‘I thought I’d rather do something I’d love to do if I have to fight to build my life.'” So, in 1998, he decided to move to Phoenix to study at the Motorcycle Mechanics Institute. And eventually, he made his way to New York.

Bike builder Paul Cox in his garage
Bike builder Paul Cox | Indian

At about the same time, Paul Cox was also starting on his own artisan/builder/mechanic career. Much like Keino, Paul’s childhood featured plenty of wheeled creations and tinkering experiments. Some of these were built by his dad, who was a hot-rodder. But when he saw vintage bikes racing around the infamous ‘Wheel of Death’ display, Paul was hooked on motorcycles. Choppers, especially.

Motorcycles aren’t the only things Paul Cox builds, though. He also paints and makes knives and leather goods. And he’s been doing that since he was a kid. Talking about these various artistic pursuits, he said that “one…concept blends into the other.” They’re all a part of the artisanal process Paul’s been pursuing for the past 30-odd years.

Several of those years were spent working together with Keino Sasaki. Specifically, when both of them worked in Indian Larry’s New York shop.

For them, Indian Larry’s greatest lesson is about how to live your life

Indian Larry on the street outside of The Late Show with Dave Letterman Show with one of his custom red-and-white-painted choppers
Indian Larry with one of his custom choppers | Arnaldo Magnani/Getty Images

Almost inevitably, talking about Keino Sasaki and Paul Cox brings up the subject of Indian Larry.

Indian Larry’s legacy is firmly cemented in the motorcycling world. And even before he made a splash on Biker Build-Off, he’d lived through some crazy times, NYT reports. From abuse victim to junkie to bank robber to a mechanic, welder, and renowned builder, Indian Larry’s backstory is truly insane, Mecum reports. And those are just “the parts people know,” Paul Cox remarked.

“He had so many drawers in his life.”

Keino sasaki

“It’s hard to summarize” Indian Larry and the experience of working with him, Keino Sasaki told me over Zoom. “Complicated guy,” Paul concurred. There are too many arguments, conversations, and moments to pull together one easy expression. But if Paul and Keino had to pick the most important take-away, it would be that Indian Larry loved what he did and never gave up.

“He [Indian Larry] did f*cked-up things, he made mistakes, he made amazing things, and he just kept going ‘til the end,” Keino Sasaki said. “He did what he did, and I’m doing the same thing.” And he had “absolute passion in a lot of things” beyond motorcycles, Paul Cox said.

“To watch him around other people that were into other things, like…somebody who was a scientist or a surgeon…he would have some aspect of information in the back of his head to have a conversation with them. Because he was so interested in the world. He loved the world, he loved everything in it, he loved all the information that was out there to be found.”

Paul cox

Indian Larry is also known for his tattoos, like the famous ‘question mark’ one. And for Keino and Paul, some people may have misinterpreted what Larry meant by it. It’s not an “aggressive kind of ‘question the world’ kind of thing,” Paul said. “It started out because he, as a human being, never thought that any of us really know what we’re doing in life.” In short, “we don’t have control over our destiny, and we’re just doing the best we can,” Paul concluded.

The 2022 Indian Chief has been a prime canvas for Keino Sasaki and Paul Cox

Keino Sasaki and Paul Cox are certainly bringing their best when it comes to the 2022 Indian Chief Custom Program. As of this writing, their bike isn’t quite ready. But even in stock form, they both found a lot they like about the Chief.

Keino likes “the fact that it’s a plain-looking motorcycle” that consumers can easily modify to suit their tastes. He also finds the frame “beautiful,” and appreciates the bolted-on rear fender. Again, that simplifies customization. “It’s a blank canvas,” he says.

A matte-green 2022 Indian Chief Bobber Dark Horse with Authentic Collection accessories in a forested field
2022 Indian Chief Bobber Dark Horse with Authentic Collection accessories | Indian

Paul Cox had similar thoughts about the 2022 Chief. “It’s kind of really primed for modifications,” he says, both from the factory and from individual builders. And while the bike has “a recognizable lineage…it has its own personality. It’s not trying to be something it’s not.”

What exactly their customized Indian Chief will look like, we can’t say. But “working on the bike has been a pleasure,” Paul says, though both he and Keino prefer working with carburetors rather than fuel injection. And after texting back and forth and showing each other some sketches, the two had a rough idea of what they wanted to build. In all likelihood, Keino says, the custom Chief will feature Paul’s signature front-end treatment, combined with Keino’s building approach.

The blue 2014 Yamaha XJR1300 'Rhapsody in Blue' built by Keino Sasaki
The 2014 Yamaha XJR1300 ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ built by Keino Sasaki | Keino Cycles

Keino Sasaki and Paul Cox remained in contact after Indian Larry’s death. But this is the first bike the duo has collaborated on since his passing, Cruiser reports. And we can’t wait to see the fruits of their labor.

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